Last week, The Roots’ Black Thought appeared at Harvard’s Innovation Lab. The South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Grammy Award-winning, platinum-selling MC reportedly kicked a freestyle in the Cambridge, Massachusetts lunchroom. Afterwards, during an audience with the Hip-Hop veteran, he was asked to reprise his verse. Instead, Thought chose to do a nearly five-minute a capella rhyme. Within, Black Thought provided Ivy League bars that resonate as well as any university graduation speech, with inspiration, hard truth, and a message of world (and life) changing hope.
Beneath the video are the lyrics, serving as a testimony to Black Thought’s life, endurance and purpose. This may be one of the most impactful and technically advanced verses of Tariq Trotter’s 25-year career. Beyond the massive jewels he drops about himself and his circumstance, this is a clinic in storytelling, punchlines, and compound rhyme excellence.
Watch Thought @ work below, and read the lyrics to this masterful rhyme.
“We livin’ in some times that’s the craziest / They say these legislators are the laziest / Dedicated religious figures have gone atheist / Each and every one must change, there’s no escapin’ this / I’m on the block, post-apocalyptic smoke covers / Coincidentally presented by the Koch Brothers / The magnitude of this is bigger than the both of us / The attitude is trying to manage not to choke from it / Go and get the bolt cutters / Open the floodgate / Any relationship I’ve ever been in was love-hate / The city I was livin’ in never really was safe / For some, a temporary resolution was duct tape / Now I’m a probably be on the black list / But I don’t give a fuck, so I’m gonna shrug like Atlas / And if my skepticism was a brand new practice / Would y’all be disappointed like y’all just got Catfish’d? / It’s cold blooded / I’m wholeheartedly cold-hearted and swole’ from it / The same unseen hand is still in control of it / I should be min’in’ my own, like it’s a gold nugget / But I’m on that same bullshit, just on a lower budget / Waitin’ on change that been low / ‘Til the day after tomorrow, I sit by the window / In a police state, like ya man Michael Winslow / My kinfolk / Told me there’s a brand new Jim Crow / I been goin’ to bed at 10, up at five / Hustlin’ to the bus and ride / To the job / It’s feeling hot as the fourth of July / My lady just gettin’ home, we leading separate lives / She couldn’t be one of those Stepford Wives / If she tried / They shot my cousin, he died / It wasn’t justified / I guess I’ll see him if I make it to the other side / The corner deli owner tell me ‘hurry up and buy’ / Everybody is somebody, tell me: who am I? / The same figure / Who came from Anguilla / Ain’t nothin’ different / I think I’m addicted to pain-killer / I’m unpermitted to enter the village / Of Shan-grilla / I’m depicted / As bein’ a killer / That’s dangerous / Huh! / Half dozen in one hand, six in the other / Yo, this is more than a suntan, it’s living color / Black as oblivion / Black as obsidian / Black as the sky at midnight out to meridian / Black as a portrait with Diddy, Tupac, and Biggie in / Black as the influence on the culture we livin’ in / I survived the chitterling circuit, vaudeville and then / Managed to inspire The Beatles, and Bob Dyl’ and them / But did I miss the mark / ‘Cause I’m just as dark / As John Henrik Clarke’s / Inner thoughts / At the time of the Harlem Renaissance? / After which / Rights activist / Created the flight path to Black ratchetness / Puttin’ us back, smack dab when night catches us / We just go along for the ride: passengers / Gluttons for punishment: masochists / Still doin’ whatever master asked of us / Will this generation go down as the last of us? / Being young men-while-black was hazardous / Enter the proverbial masked avenger / All these pretenders / Suffer from symptoms of Affluenza / I’m just thinkin’ aloud about extinction agendas / And plans my grandmother definitely remembers / Listen, her suits were tailor-made / Sundays, Mahalia played / Simple familiar ways / Like the way she knelt and [prayed] / ‘Lord master, forgive us our trespasses’ had us real afraid / I never listened, but I still obeyed / I got to see how gangstas played at such an early age / What my father was into sent him to his early grave / Then mom started chasin’ that base like Willie Mays / My childhood was all of 40 nights and 40 days / Trouble was my ball and chain / Shorties would call me names / Humble beginnings, Black Thought is what that all became / A journey from a dirty hallway to the hall of fame / Music, my therapeutic way to deal with all this pain / I was headed for the drain / Soakin’, before the rainwater came / And chaos, that’s when the order came / I started doin’ what I’m supposed to do in life, trying to make out of the dark, closer to the light / They say when you get a chance to do it over, do it right / Tomorrow isn’t promised every time we say ‘goodnight’ / Listen… hold’up, dope shot, mugshot, gunshot, jump-shot / Take your pick, but you only got one shot / Advice, from a schoolteacher to a young tot / Applying a sticker to a Spiderman lunchbox / When ever role-models tell us / We’re born to be felons / And we ain’t gettin’ into Harvard or Carnegie Mellon / And of these other peoples’ blessings, we’re gonna be jealous / It’s not fair that that’s all they can tell us / That’s why I hustle hella hard, I don’t celebrate a holiday / That could be the day a brother could’ve struck the lottery / I refuse to ever lose or throw my shot away / Or chalk it up as just another one that got away / So, I’m unapologetic / I’m on my calisthenics / If I have given it all I’ve got, I cannot regret it / My final destination’s different from where I was headed / I’m gonna shoot for the stars to get it / One shot.